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New Zealand leader plans to discuss disputed Indo-Pacific with Biden on Tuesday

WASHINGTON, May 26 (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would meet U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House next Tuesday when she plans to discuss increasing competition in the Indo-Pacific, trade and the economic role of the United States in the region.

The two countries are close allies, but meeting Biden had been uncertain after Ardern tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, given strict White House pandemic protocols.

Ardern, who spoke to reporters on Thursday after delivering the commencement address at Harvard University during a visit to the United States, said she would also meet with US Vice President Kamala Harris on same day.

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She expected the agenda to include the war in Ukraine and growing competition in the Indo-Pacific — an apparent reference to the growing rivalry between the United States and its allies and China in the region.

“There are a number of areas where the United States and New Zealand have very similar views, a number of areas where we would like to see their presence continue or increase,” Ardern said.

“I imagine we will be discussing our region and the fact that it is becoming increasingly contested and that the role of the United States in our regional economy is important.”

She is in the United States seeking to boost exports and attract more tourists as New Zealand seeks to fully reopen its borders after more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, she met with members of the US Congress and said the US would have to revert to a regional trade pact it scrapped in 2017 if it wanted to engage economically with the Indo-Pacific. Read more

Ardern’s visit to Washington coincides with the start of an extensive tour by China’s foreign minister of Pacific island nations, an increasingly tense front competing for influence between Beijing and Washington and its allies, including New Zealand. Read more

His visit also follows a month of intensive U.S. diplomacy focused on the Indo-Pacific, including Biden’s first trip as president to the region which ended this week. Read more

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Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Pullin

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